Increase Academic Language Development: Bilingual Teaching Strategies

There are various strategies an instructor can utilize from a bilingual education program that also connect with the emphasis on academic language development in the Teacher Performance Assessment (TPA). The TPA standards require a teacher differentiate instruction in core subjects such as reading, math, science, and other content areas. Academic language development shall overlay these subjects, to further improve upon students’ language skills while also increasing knowledge of other subject matter. Differentiated instruction is similar to a layered approach to teaching; when understanding this concept, it can be related to peeling the layers off of an onion. The first layer is an introduction to content, noting that this is one approach to introducing a set of content to students. The next layer is another pedagogical delivery method, introducing the same subject matter in a different way. Each layer can continuously, and even simultaneously be revealed to allow the information to continue to reach all students. The brilliance of this approach is this differentiated and flexible method of instruction can further reach and intrigue high achievers, while also reaching those that are struggling.

The TPA lists some questions outlining the rubric guidelines for effective teaching. In regard to academic language, there are some key components outlined on this rubric. A model of a bilingual program that meets all of these standards is represented at Coral Way Elementary School in Miami, Florida. The instructors in this program utilize various teaching strategies to meet the educational needs of all of their Spanish-speaking students. There are quite a few examples from a video about this school by Checkley, Steinhorn, and Creed (2004) that I plan to implement in my future general education classroom. As this video represents, instruction should be flexible and varied to help students achieve academic and personal success. It is of the utmost importance that an instructor evaluate and assess the academic progress of all students, meet students’ parents and/or caregivers, communicate effectively with teaching team/s and staff, and communicate regularly with individual students. The more a teacher knows about their students, the more effectively they can gage the pedagogical styles for their classroom any given school year.

There are too many strategies to note when discussing bilingual and differentiated instruction but one very important method is the use of visual information in the classroom. Pictures, grouped with vocabulary, are helpful for those struggling with language development as well as other cognitive disabilities. The program at Coral Reef Elementary School includes various visual guides for language learners such as illustrations with vocabulary and props for learning about idioms and homophones. The video by Checkley, Steinhorn, and Creed (2004) exhibits a great example of a lesson on idioms. Expressions such as dress the bird are very complicated to grasp when learning the English language. Through silly comparisons of the literal definitions of idioms and the actual meaning, children are able to grasp what dress the bird actually means. They are further instructed to sprinkle spices on an actual chicken in a roasting pan. The action of dressing the physical bird helps solidify this content with a memory of an experience. Noting this example, visuals can be utilized in a variety of ways in the classroom. Objects can even be used to simplify seemingly complex math problems. Appropriate visual information with text should also be displayed throughout the classroom, further promoting new vocabulary and reading comprehension.

It is also important to allow students to work together in pairs or groups to further facilitate and active learning environment. Students can practice instruction together in a group building on social and communication skills while also practicing content they’ve been learning about. Students may even present in front of the class in pairs as well as in larger groups to reduce anxiety while practicing public speaking. This can be done on simple or more complex projects. Working together also helps promote inclusion for students on IEPs that are being integrated into general education settings. Group projects are also excellent opportunities to teach about social diversity and teamwork. Working together promotes use of verbal language use as well as socialization and problem solving amongst peers.

Repetition is also very important, especially when practicing new languages and vocabulary. Practice and differentiated methods of content review further enables students to understand material in a variety of ways, reinforcing that lessons are reaching a variety of learners. Repetitious language and vocabulary can be used throughout a curriculum any given day. For example, perhaps students are learning about geology and rocks in science. In math, they could practice word problems utilizing science vocabulary, such as pounds of limestone versus tons of granite. They could also continue to utilize rock vocabulary on an art project, gathering and displaying a rock collection as a piece of art. In PE, active involvement strategies could be utilized to learn about the rock cycle. This language can be integrated throughout the day’s subjects in other ways as well, including songs, creative writing, academic journaling, and so on. The continuous practice of using new vocabulary in different contexts helps deepen an understanding of the use and meaning of words.

Overall, the TPA provides standards for developing academic language through various methods of instruction across all areas of curriculum. Integrating language throughout a curriculum can be challenging but can be done by differentiating instruction utilizing a layered approach to introduce content in different ways. This will further increase academic abilities for all students. Bilingual teaching methods provide excellent models to include in various classroom settings to increase language development while broadening cultural understanding and appreciation. The strategies used in bilingual education programs easily scaffold over to other areas of instruction and can be utilized as models in a wide range of circumstances.


Checkley, J. (Executive Producer), & Steinhorn, P. & Creed, B. (Producers). (2004). A visit to classrooms of English language learners [Motion picture]. United States: (Available from Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA).




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